My art process. Military Life. My Cause.

Stretching Togetherness

I felt like a little girl awaiting Christmas morning as I waited for the 18 8 foot by 6 inch canvases to arrive. The company I ordered them from had said Tuesday, March 22 would be the day. Tuesday came and went and no canvases. Wednesday came and went. No matter how many times I looked out the window, the canvases didn't arrive. Thursday I called and got a tracking number. These beauties were coming all the way from Canada. One company had started the delivery and another would finish it.

That Saturday, still with no canvases, I found refuge in my studio during my girls’ nap time. I tore 8 foot by 15 inch sheets of paper off the roll. I pinned them to the ceiling in order to get a better idea of scale and to plan out the placement of the blind contours. This is my first time pre-planning for a piece. I wanted to get an idea of how BIG it really was going to be. After doing the "Birthday Winner" piece, I realized the most important part of these pieces with the black gesso is the composition of the blind contours. The shape of the negative space can make the piece interesting or fall flat. How much will I enlarge the blind contours when I project them? How many more do I need? How much overlapping will there be in the blind contours? How readable should the images be? All questions I ask myself. This is the first time since college that I have had a specific assignment so to speak. For me, this is much different from all my commissions. Some clients have had an overall feeling that they wanted me to convey, but ultimately it has always been about a certain look (based on past works).

With these questions swirling, after looking at my drawings and talking to my soldier; I have decided I still need some other staples to depict the war-reality half of the piece. I am anticipating using tank and helicopter drawings as well as some different depictions of guns, possibly a HUM-V and body armor (yet to be drawn). Also I am still brainstorming the home-front imagery as well.

Eventually the canvas company did call. The delivery time window was 11-3 on Monday.  I arranged my day accordingly, and that time came and went. Little did I know, 5:45 would be perfect time for them to arrive.  Because they weigh a total of 300 pounds, I wanted the canvases to go straight to my studio, just a couple yards behind our house....the delivery man had only a dolly and he told me that he would only take it as far as the pavement went. All day as I waited, I had been preparing homemade spaghetti sauce. One of our family favorites, rigatoni (a mix between lasagna and baked ziti), was on the menu. That evening, we were hosting three important potential supporters for RHF. Making dinner, while I waited, had been an all-day affair. Thankfully I felt relatively calm.

My husband's brother, who we only see about once a year (due to busy schedules), was also joining us for dinner. He and his girlfriend had offered to take my girls with them to check out the progress on Rick's Place (RHF's property.) In my time alone, I was chopping the salad toppings and waiting. I heard a knock at the door. My husband's friend was also in for the weekend, and he popped in to say goodbye before he flew back to Texas. His timing was perfect. The canvases arrived and this friend helped the delivery man get the box of paintings to the studio. Otherwise that box would have stopped at the garage. The waiting was finally over!

Then something quite unexpected happened..... I felt a new weight. Excitement turned on its head and heaviness came quickly. I hadn't realized that I had been trying to go at it alone. Just like any deployment, going at it alone is never best. The emotions of our upcoming deployment came over me, even though I have months until it is time to say goodbye again. Making this piece brings those far too familiar emotions right to the surface.

Like this balloon, I was alone and stuck.

Like this balloon, I was alone and stuck.

It was time. I needed to prep my canvases. The gesso I normally use is white. Gesso is used to prime the canvas so that it can withstand the paint. It creates a barrier between the oil paint and the fibers in the raw canvas. Most canvases that are pre-stretched are already gessoed, but since I custom ordered these canvases, they came unprimed.

I spilled a whole gallon of black gesso. A mess. Instead of cleaning it up, I just painted with it off the floor. That was a bad idea. So bad that I didn't even text my husband. I couldn’t gather my composure enough to figure out the best way to clean it up. My mind went to my friends who are alone now, and to those who never welcomed their soldier back home. My job, my hope, is that through this piece, I can be a voice. A voice that says that there are many real families that choose to live for freedom, knowing if they don't, someone else will go in their place. I have thought of it over and over. Why us? And then I think about my husband and how he loves fighting for freedom, even though he hates leaving us. He was made to be a soldier. He does his job well and I continue to learn what it means to do my job well. I did not grow up appreciating the sacrifices that have been made and those who still make them. Now I cannot and will not turn a blind eye to those who have paid the ultimate price. They don't want our pity, they want the torch to be carried on, that those behind them would be bold and brave, living for a cause bigger than themselves.

Spilling that gesso caused me to see that my heart was hurting and that I needed help. The state of my heart is important when I am creating. Normally I skip to my studio, but lately that lighthearted nature has been hard to find. My husband came in and it was not the help I thought I needed. After helping me clean it up, he mentioned to me that I was not making the coats even (this part of the process is more like house painting- not my expertise).  I was doing it as evenly as I could, but I am not methodical. That is good for my art usually, but in this moment, I was falling short of the excellence that I crave.

We had planned to go to dinner and shopping (per my request) that night, but the conversation about the canvases had made me feel like that would not turn out so well. He was blowing off the driveway, I waved him down. I did the hard thing, I told him I would like his help. He came and started showing me how to overcome some of the technical difficulties I was running into with the black gesso. We got into a rhythm and I suggested that we do a quicker dinner and head back to the studio to finish off the date.

So it was sushi in our work clothes and back to gessoing after a quick stop to grab a treat. We had a blast! One of the best dates ever....I now felt the support I needed and wanted but hadn’t known how to get before. We were facing it together! He was excited to be able to help me in such a tangible way and I was so much happier with the way the canvases were turning out. I did some drawing while he gessoed and then I revisited the interview I had begun conducting about his perspective on deployment two weekends ago (more on that later).

Working side by side.

Working side by side.

Sunday we were able to finish the third and final coat as we worked together! This is massive. And overwhelming. Barely-fits-in-my-studio. And that in itself is important to the message. No one facing deployment/separation should face it alone. Don't minimize it, no matter the length. Gone is gone.  Find community for the good days and for the not-so-good-days, when you want to just lay on the floor in your mess. My good friend always reminds me, "You must get out of your house or the four walls will close in on you." (Even if it is only to your mailbox.) Wherever you are on this journey of life, there will be insurmountable obstacles. Please don't try to face them alone. Reach out, invite someone to dinner (so you will actually cook like you love to) or go out to eat (try a new place or an old favorite). I have learned that I can't save too many things for when he returns home (sometimes we just repeat or highlight) or else I don't live in the meantime. So I watch the movie with friends or I make a new friend, I try a new hobby.....this is how I got into documenting my kids’ lives. It helps me feel connected and reminds me of all the good times we had together, even when the bed is cold and empty.

Today I am making the most of the days that we have together in the same place, so when the day comes that I can't just call him back to ask for help, he already knows I am for him. And that I need him. Invest in the love that can stretch the miles.